various artists :: Rappers to Riches :: Solar Music Group
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Pedro 'DJ Complejo' Hernandez

The year was 1997 and Solar Music Group was set to take the gangsta rap world by storm. Scouring the country, they assembled a roster of artists and independent labels that would change the rap music business as we know it. As is the case sometimes, all is not always what it seems and for Solar Music Group their situation was much worse than they lead on. At different points during the company's existence SMG actually did boast rappers and labels that would one day go on to blow up world wide. It was the original distribution home for Master P's No Limit Records and E-40's Sick Wit It label. It also distributed the first Dayton Family album as well as albums by Crazy, JT Tha Bigga Figga and the R.B.L. Posse among others. Yet, by the time this compilation rolled around SMG was desperately trying to find the next big gangsta rapper, as Master P and E-40 had found new distribution deals elsewhere. For this reason the cover art boasts no track listing as the big names listed contribute no new material. The recycled tracks are paired with unknowns, most of whom didn't last more than an album. Despite the deceiving nature of this collection, it still holds up well over ten years later.

One of the main reasons this compilation is dope is because SMG has long been out of business and with it went all the music it released. Trying to find anything distributed by SMG for a decent price is a difficult task. It's a shame as hardcore gangsta rap aficionados throw praises upon albums like No Limit's "High Fo Christmas" and The Mafiosos "Take Cover." Included here are tracks from those albums and many more. King George had split on bad terms from the No Limit family by the time "Locked Up For X-Mas" showed up here but it doesn't make the track any less dope:

"December Deuce Five, your boy still alive
Bu locked down tight, with G's, do or die
Maintaining my composure, walking like a soldier
And won't hesitate to throw these things like boulders
It's Kingpin, your nigga til the end
The one through thick and thin, even though I'm not your kin
On the cell block it's hard, no chatting with the guards
My arms are through the bars with this man made charge"

Master P himself was just about to take over the world with his new deal through Priority, but his gangsta rap formula was nothing new as can be heard on "Bastard Child," a track lifted from his first underground album "The Ghetto's Trying To Kill Me:"

"Gigidi-Glock and I'm out here deep in the game
I guess it's hard growing up without your family man
Mommy left me cause they always used to fuss and fight
I used to cry at night, hope that dad would act right
Tripping off my mommy, daddy started drinking gin
Dropped me off at my grandma's house and I ain't seen him since"

E-40 shows up dropping a track that was new and unfamiliar to me in "Thought I Could Trust a Girl." The reason this track never dropped might have been the beat as it uses the same sample as LL Cool J's "I Need Love" but in this case doesn't flip the sample at all. Other rare tracks that can be found here include JT Tha Bigga Figga's "Straight Out Tha Lab," The Mafiosos "Take Cover," Crazy's "Streets To The Pen," Tru's "Would You Take A Bullet For Your Homie," and Mack and Mansun's "So Many Ways."

Outside of the rare music from established groups, there are a few tracks dropped by lesser known rappers that would satisfy a fan of gangsta rap. Tracks from the likes of Toby T, Face Forever, and Oakland Establishment have that gangsta funk and R&B crooning that made many a classic song in the mid-1990s. Still, those tracks range from average to solid with nothing classic. The rest of the up and comers given a chance here go through the usual motions of gangsta rap with none impressing too much.

Overall, "Rappers to Riches" is a better buy for the collector who already knows about some of the groups involved or for the potential collector looking for a sampler. It's usually priced well below other SMG projects and being that SMG was using this as a promotional tool it tends to include the better tracks from each artist. After this release, SMG tried their hand with a few of the up and comers, released more compilations, and then fell off the face of the earth. It's a shame the company ended this way considering someone involved had an obvious ear for talent, but the label will at least be fondly (or not so fondly to some) remembered for introducing the world to local rap acts turned superstars like E-40 and Master P.

Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10

Originally posted: February 12, 2008
source: www.RapReviews.com